I am not a fan of Kiss. I only know a few of their songs, mostly because they appeared in Rock Band. I watched that Behind the Music episode they did once, at least. Besides that, all I know about them is they want to Rock and Roll All Nite and have a wonderful time, they made a bizarre ’70s live-action special, and then there was that period in the ’80s where they took off the makeup and were like every other hair metal band of the era. They have a couple good songs, at least.
Naturally, with how popular Kiss was, along with Gene Simmons’ shrewd business tactics, there has to be a video game about them. Enter Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child.
Kiss Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child is a video game adaption of the Psycho Circus comic book series by Image Comics and Todd MacFarlane Productions. The comic involved the band members becoming supernatural beings and saving the universe as part of the Four-Who-Are-One (I wish I was making that up). The video game borrows elements from the comic, but has a wholly different story.
Instead of playing as the band members, you play as members of a Kiss tribute band, who get teleported to a special world ran by this gypsy named Madame Raven. She tells you about this big bad called “The Nightmare Child,” and your band are the chosen ones to stop them. Separated by the Hall of Mirrors, each band member goes through each world as they grab each of the six pieces that form the respective Elder.
After writing that paragraph, most of which I consulted the manual to understand this bizarre-ass story, I can say with authority that this story is so god damn ridiculous that it’s not worth knowing. Then again, with this being co-opted by a band known for wearing silly outfits and the guy who created freakin’ Spawn, I’m not expecting Half-Life levels of storytelling here.
This game was developed by Third Law Interactive, founded by one of the original members of the Daikatana development team, so already we’re off to a shaky start. They didn’t do a whole lot of notable stuff, my brief search found out they worked on an Aliens vs. Predator 2 expansion and added stuff to the Game of the Year edition of No One Lives Forever. So we’re looking at a small studio with not much notability, which is worrying.
But let’s get to the meat of Kiss Psycho Circus. In the game, you choose one of the four supernatural characters and go through a set of levels, getting weapons, jumping on platforms, activating switches and killing enemies in your wake. Through the levels, you’re looking for the items make your character part of the Elder, like boots, shoulder pads, and finally the iconic Kiss masks.
Each episode ends with you heading to the Psycho Circus to fight the boss of the area so you can get the mask and become an elder god. Lather, rinse, repeat for the other three worlds before fighting a final boss at the end. Fairly simple old-school shooter fare.
Since the last time I played this game was about ten years ago, I had to replay it to remember some things. If you thought the story was ridiculous, the rest of the game is just as insane. Literal fat ladies throwing bile bombs, floating enemies that shoot toxic gas at you, a one-armed discus thrower, the works.
The weapons are even stranger: there’s the simple fare like fist and a sword, but then there’s stuff like metal claws, a rocket launcher that shoots an explosive shockwave, a metal gauntlet that acts like a shotgun, even a magical railgun whip that doubles as a grappling hook. I swear, some of the weapons in Kiss Psycho Circus seem like rejected ideas from Daikatana.
Outside of the masks and various places playing Kiss tunes, this game barely has anything to do with Kiss. Which is good, it means you don’t need to be a diehard fan to understand what the hell’s going on. Not like you could, anyway.
This game throws a lot of enemies at you, and I mean a lot. Sometimes hallways can be flooded by dozens or more of the same enemy, and it’s further exacerbated by enemy spawners you must kill otherwise they keep adding more enemies. Several times there were lots of dudes in an area with the intent to kill them all, usually in cramped, closed-off spaces, overwhelming me in the process. This is the kind of FPS subgenre that Serious Sam and Painkiller were later known for, so Kiss Psycho Circus could be considered the earliest game to use the “enemy hell” FPS concept, just throwing loads of enemies in a room and expecting you to deal with them all. Too bad in this game it isn’t very fun.
Besides all that, it’s a pretty average, difficult shooter. As I write this, I still don’t understand how this even exists. Was the comic a hot commodity? Did they think Kiss fans were also shooter fans? Was this meant to be something else and became a licensed title at the last minute? The whole concept of the game is baffling to me, like I need to be on drugs to thoroughly enjoy it. As a result, it ends up being one of the most bizarre licensed titles I’ve ever played. It has to be seen to be believed.
Thankfully there weren’t many other Kiss games, outside of a pinball game for the PlayStation that I heard was pretty bad. Though I am surprised they never considered a Guitar Hero: Kiss or something, I guess they weren’t offered enough money for it and opted to make more Kiss Kaskets instead.
As for Third Law Interactive, they didn’t make many games after this, mostly budget titles under their 3LV Games banner. At least those budget games were good, right?
God DAMN IT
If you wanna read the horror of Elite Forces: WWII Iwo Jima, go check out the entry I wrote for it here! It’s strange to imagine I wrote it just two years ago…